NPR to stock new mobile app by aiding stations on back end

By Mike Janssen and Andrew Lapin

NPR is preparing member stations to provide local news for the network’s new mobile app, slated for release by summer.

NPR content chief Kinsey Wilson discussed and previewed the app Feb. 24 for station execs attending the Public Media Summit in Washington, D.C. It builds on the Infinite Player, an NPR platform released for bigger-screened devices in 2011, moving it to a mobile interface and adding local station content to NPR’s own programming.

Summit attendees heard an NPR newscast item about the Winter Olympics segue into a segment from San Francisco’s KQED about a labor dispute. The audio included a plea for donations to KQED. NPR developers plan to enable gifts via a “Donate” button. And users will be able to buy tickets for station events from their devices.

To deliver local content, the app will determine a listener’s location and prompt selection of a local station. Editors will curate segments, but over time algorithms will tweak the mix to reflect a user’s listening habits and preferences.

The app will sync a listener’s preferences and listening history across platforms. Wilson did not share mockups of the user interface, which is still under development.

As NPR prepares the app, it’s working with stations to incorporate more local segments. Partners are focusing first on adding local newscasts to follow NPR’s, which start each listening session.

Some legwork is required to prepare stations’ content for the app. NPR has been working with stations in major markets, but even for them “it’s been a heavy lift to make sure that they can take their local stories, get them segmented, encoded and delivered to us,” Wilson said.

Most stations in the system are not now taking those steps with their content, Wilson told Current. But NPR Digital Services has developed tools to aid the process and feed segments into the network’s applied programming interface. NPR will continue to seek feedback from stations to find easier ways to manage their content, Wilson said.

Development of the app by NPR and partner stations is backed by $8.4 million in grants announced in December. The Knight Foundation provided $5.4 million and three donors, including acting NPR CEO Paul Haaga, each gave $1 million.

During a Q&A with summit attendees, Wilson underscored NPR’s interest in mobile when a station leader asked for advice about priorities for developing station websites.

“It’s all about mobile now,” Wilson answered. “If I were forced to make budgetary choices and had to shut down my website in favor of mobile, I would do it in a heartbeat tomorrow.”

NPR implemented responsive design on its website last year, enabling a jump in mobile traffic, Wilson said. Mobile visitors to NPR’s site hit a milestone in January, accounting for half of total traffic, he said.

This article has been updated with additional information.
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